National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture. [taken from poets.org]
In 2018, Madison Public Library celebrated National Poetry Month by posting a poem a day throughout the entire month of April. The poems were recommended by Madison-area readers and writers and curated by City of Madison Poet Laureate Oscar Mireles.
Below are the highlighted poems where you can read the entire poem and find out why it was chosen.
Dinosaurs in the Hood
by Danez Smith
Recommended by: Sabrina Madison, Entrepreneur
Why I chose this poem: "I chose this poem for how passionately it represents Black boys simply being little Black boys. The lines I love most are: 'And nobody kills the black boy.'"
by Pedro Pietri, 1944-2004
Recommended by: Roberto Rivera Chicano, Activist
Why I chose this poem: "I love the way he captures the rhythm, energy and spirit of the poet and his city in the street vernacular."
My Cockroach Lover
by Martín Espada
Recommended by: Luana Monteiro Educator
Why I chose this poem: "I love the poet's willingness to laugh at himself in what appears to be a very pitiful state of affairs."
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost, 1874-1963
Recommended by: Lisa Peyton Caire, Founder of Foundation for Black Women's Wellness
Why I chose this poem: "The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost has resonated with my since I first read it in middle school. The beauty and truth of it struck me at the core, capturing the choices we are all faced with in life---to choose our path as we aim to discover our purpose and to walk in that calling. This and my elders' teachings to follow your own voice, mind, and principles---never to mimic others or to go with the crowd for the sake of getting along--made this most meaningful to me, and I have lived my life according to this ideal , and it has taken me far."
by Maya Angelou, 1928-2014
Recommended by: Lisa Andreas, Sentencing Consultant MSW-CAPSW
Why I chose this poem: "Have always admired Maya Angelou - where things started in her life and how she overcame so much to end up where she did. The poem is in essence about that. Despite how much people can be oppressed, they do lose sight of freedom and the desire for that freedom. It addresses so many things in our society but especially of course, race/prison disenfranchisement."
by Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013
Recommended by: Bob Miller, Former Mayor of Monona
Why I chose this poem: "I love this poem because it truly reflects life on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in Ireland where we now call home. I especially love the last line, 'Water and ground in their extremity.' So true in this part of the world."
Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes, 1902-1967
Recommended by: Betsy Lawrence, Speak
Why I chose this poem: "I like things more when I like the people who produced them. I’ve been a fan of Langston Hughes, as a person and of his poetry, since I was a little girl. Read “Let America be America Again” aloud. Listen to yourself as you read it. The poem reads like you speak. It talks about things you might be concerned about. Or maybe after reading it aloud, it makes you concerned about new things. When you read it, you speak and think about our history. And then you might think about how things might be better for all of us. "Let America Be America Again.'"
"Loving you less than life, a little less"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950
Recommended by: Karen Reece Phiffer, Scientist
Why I chose this poem: "I love all of Millay's work, but this one describes appreciating the beauty of another person in the same way one appreciates the beauty of the world around us. She can't be tied down with a traditional definition of love, nor can that definition interfere with her ability to live in the moment and accept all that the world has to offer."
by Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Recommended by: Tom Neale, Retired Civil Servant
Why I chose this poem: "I selected the Gettysburg Address because I believe it to be one of, if not the greatest, short poem in the American tradition. It is every bit as superb as a poem structurally as, say, "Frost’s Stopping By A Field On A Snowy Evening." The language is simple, clear,and arresting, the cadences similar to the Psalms in the KJV. It leaps out at the listener with an unique combination of power and hope; synthesizing the American experience in less than three minutes."
by Langston Hughes, 1902-1967
Recommended by: Jessica Doyle, Educator
Why I chose this poem: "'I, Too' is a poem so powerful that it affects me every time I read it. Like so many poems by Langston Hughes, it is from the heart and every word counts. 'I, Too' speaks to me of compassion, freedom and pride."
Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz
by Matthew Olzmann
Recommended by: Dylan Weir, Poet
Why I chose this poem: "I chose the piece because it demonstrates the power a poem has to memorializes our current moment in a timeless way."
It is Not
by Susan Roney-O'Brien
Recommended by: Deb Gilpin
Why I chose this poem: "I have always saved stones. This poem perfectly describes the experience I have when I discover a special new stone somewhere in the world."
If We Must Die
by Claude McKay, 1889-1948
Recommended by: Allen Ruff, Activist
Why I chose this poem: "Written at the height of violent racist mob attacks on Black communities nationwide during the 'Red Summer' of 1919 and widely reproduced in the African-American press of the time, McKay’s poem gave voice to the spirit of resistance and captured the sentiments of those determined to fight back."
If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking
by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886
Recommended by: Joy Cardin, Journalist
Why I chose this poem: "My mother, who was a nurse, an animal lover, and a poet, introduced me to this poem when I was a child. It help me to realize that being kind and helping others gives meaning to life."
Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
Recommended by: Bob Queen, Patriot
Why I chose this poem: "My grandmother, Anne Queen, lived in Brookline, Mass. near Commonwealth Ave. and the route of the re-enactment of Paul Revere's ride held on Patriots Day, a holiday in the Bay State. My brother and I would sleep over at my grandmother's apartment and eagerly await the horse and rider telling us the nasty British were coming. The poem of course always awakens memories of those exciting days."
The Last Dragon
by Irina Ratushinskaya, 1954-2017
Recommended by: James Roberts, Poet
Why I chose this poem: "I chose "The Last Dragon" by Irina Ratushinskaya because of her background, being imprisoned by the Russian government and sentenced to a seven-year term "for writing poetry" and her method of scribbling her poems on bars of soap, memorizing them, then 'washing away the evidence'. Ratushinskaya passed away on June 6, 2017."
How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861
Recommended by: Amy Callahan, Dreamer
Why I chose this poem: "It’s a very dreamy poem, idealistic, romantic. It could be about another person or one’s life work."
to the notebook kid
by Eve L. Ewing
Recommended by: Meg Rothstein, Reader
Why I chose this poem: "I felt deep gratitude for the educator (presumably Ewing) in "to the notebook kid"-- who recognizes, encourages and supports the talent of a young artist. Acts like hers make all the difference-- protecting the gift."
Black Before the Mountain
by LaVelle F. Rudd
Recommended by: Hedi Rudd, Photographer
Why I chose this poem: "I chose this poem as it was written by my father. He created a tear drop shaped piece of wood and mounted parchment paper to it with the poem written in calligraphy. So every day I saw it and read it and it became my call to action for our family, for my children and grandchildren. Times like now, it seems even more important to remember and share."
by Kevin Young
Recommended by: Pat DiBiase, Educator
Why I chose this poem: "I had such an easy time drawing visual images from this poem. Some of my earliest memories are of my aunts who were wonderful, yet seemed slightly wacky and weird. From its very title, “Aunties" spoke to me because of my connection to these women and, probably even more so, because being a great-aunt is one of my favorite things ever!"
by Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936
Recommended by: Sam Owens, Lawyer
Why I chose this poem: "The poem illustrates my definition of mentorship: sharing knowledge which best prepares the youth for self-determination."
by Nikki Giovanni
Recommended by: Faustina Bohling, Poet
Why I chose this poem: "She takes back her narrative. Calling out what we, outside the experience, miss by falling into the 'one story' narrative. That happiness is not synonymous with wealth."
Poem about My Rights
by June Jordan, 1936-2002
Recommended by: Jenny Pressman, Community Builder
Why I chose this poem: "'Poem about My Rights'" is powerful, personal, and political. It's intimate in tone yet global in its critique of systemic oppression and the abuse of power. Jordan is raw and unflinching in describing being raped. She connects how rape oppresses women to how violence is used to oppress people of color for being "wrong," for having the wrong bodies. Ultimately, the poem is empowering and revolutionary -- it's a call to action and agency. When she writes, "I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name", Jordan reclaims her body and her rights. I love that it ends with an incendiary declaration of independence.
by Craig Arnold, 1967-2009
Recommended by: Karin Wolf, Art-Hag
Why I chose this poem: "When I ask someone what their favorite poem is, I'm always so impressed when they start reciting by heart. My friend Alison will recite me all of Ulysses. I love the lines, 'I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd Greatly. have suffer'd greatly.' And I want the final lines to be my mantra as I age, 'Tho' much is taken. much abides: and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are. we are: One equal temper of heroic hearts. Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.'
My friend Ed, quotes me 'Fog' by Carl Sandberg, short and sweet. I relate to it too. I consider all of you favorite poem reciters quite lucky. You have a poem that sticks with you through thick and thin. I do not. I have poems that come sit by my side for a little while, only to move along after a day, a week, or sometimes longer. They help me along my journey, but I have never found one permanent beacon that I can march towards steadily.
The day Oscar asked me what my favorite poem was, the only poem that could comfort me was 'Bird-Understander' by Craig Arnold so it was, truthfully, my favorite poem. It was a time that I was feeling overwhelmed and useless in the midst of all the suffering in this world. Thus, perhaps I was over-identifying with the woman or man who feels frustrated by her inability to help a bird trapped in an airport terminal. It was at a time I was feeling trapped and fearful myself. Perhaps I was also over-identifying with a bird who accidentally trapped itself and would eventually scare itself to death. It was a at a time I was wishing I was loved, and heard, and understood like the author seemed to understand the subject of his poem. It was at that time that a friend sent me this poem making me feel loved and heard and reminding me that witnessing and feeling compassion for myself and others is sometimes enough.
That is why I called 'Bird-Understander' my favorite poem. Right now, I'm actually between poems. Looking for another to help me navigate this complicated world with so much beauty and pain, happiness and speed. I'm looking for a poem that describes a sort of neon azure color, and what it is like to be unhurt and unstuck. Hopefully, someone will send it to me soon."
Love After Love
by Derek Walcott, 1930-2017
Recommended by: Ann Imig, Creator
Why I chose this poem: "'Love after Love' reminds me--again and again-- to turn away from ego and yearning, toward gratitude and love."
by Irena Klepfisz
Recommended by: Jen Rubin, Storyteller
Why I chose this poem: "Bashert is a mostly untranslatable Yiddish word which I take to mean inexplicability. As a survivor of the Holocaust and an activist, Kelpfisz divided this poem is in two parts - dedicated to those who died and dedicated to those that survived. What I appreciate about how she structured her poem is that the same thing that kept one person alive is the very thing that led to someone's death. While this poem is about Holocaust victims and survivors it can just as easily be read in other contexts. This poem is so well crafted and she lulls readers into a false sense of security in the first part, that there is a logic and cause and effect to who dies. But by they time you finishing reading the poem you realize there is no logic."
by Mary Oliver
Recommended by: Linda Endlich, Creative
Why I chose this poem: "I first heard this poem when asked to read it at the wedding of two friends. My life and theirs have taken many unexpected twists but the poem remains a constant companion. Each time I read it I am reminded that we are all vulnerable and flawed but have more in common with each other than we acknowledge. We don't need to wander alone if we can move forward together and grow. Nothing exemplifies adaptation and the connectedness of all things like nature and no one describes it as simply and beautifully as Mary Oliver. Nature survives, she endures, turning days into nights, weeks into months, and years into lifetimes. Somehow, life seems intrinsically worthwhile when reminded of the power of imagination, the renewal of Spring when those wild geese return home, and that we are all part of something much larger than each of us alone."
by Sonia Sanchez
Recommended by: Fabu, Poet
Why I chose this poem: "This is the poet Sonia Sanchez at her best; using sound, rhythm, and the African American experience to celebrate women and their stories. I love and chose this poem because of all the startling beautiful expression and memorable lines like "this honeycoatedalabamianwoman" and "in my mind I see my history standing like a shy child." This poem comes from her book A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women and it is a must read."
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000
Recommended by: Oscar Mireles, Poet
Why I chose this poem: "I picked this poem because it reminded me of my teenage years."